Coronavirus in NI: What am I allowed to do as Covid-19 lockdown eases?

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StormontImage source, Reuters

Northern Ireland has been taking the first steps in easing restrictions imposed when the coronavirus lockdown was enforced in March.

The moves form part of the executive's five-step Pathway to Recovery.

Here, we answer some of the many readers' questions BBC News NI has received about the steps, and how they affect you.

Can I meet friends and relatives?

Step one of the pathway allows as many as six people from different households to meet, as long as they are outdoors - be this in a garden, park or another open space.

However, you must still adhere to social distancing and remain 2m (6ft) apart.

You cannot visit friends or relatives inside their homes or other buildings, which First Minister Arlene Foster says is due to medical advice that the virus spreads more easily indoors.

Meeting people indoors is the only element of part one of the recovery plan that has not yet been unlocked.

One reader has asked if a family of five, together in one household, can have one visitor come over to celebrate their son's 21st birthday party.

This is allowed under the rules, however there are a couple of things to consider.

Social distancing with the friend has to be maintained, and the friend must remain in an outdoor space.

The guidance against indoor meetings also goes for travelling in cars.

If you are driving to meet someone from a different household outdoors, you must travel in separate cars and remain 2m (6ft) apart at all times.

If I've been shielding, can I now go outside?

From Monday, you can.

Image source, Getty Images

About 80,000 people in Northern Ireland received letters from their GP advising them not to go outside, as they have health conditions making them more vulnerable to the virus.

But the executive has agreed that from 8 June, those shielding can go outdoors with members of their household or, if they live alone, to meet one person from another household.

New advice is expected to be issued shortly detailing the changes.

What does the easing of restrictions mean for the over-70s?

This depends on whether they have been self-isolating or not.

Those over-70 who are not already shielding can go out and be in an outdoor space but, like everyone else, they must adhere to social-distancing and hand hygiene guidelines.

Can I access childcare?

Until now, childcare has only been available to vulnerable children and the children of frontline workers.

But the Department of Health and Department of Education have now agreed changes to the definition of a key worker, which will allow more people to access childcare.

The full list can be seen on the Department of Education website.

There will continue to be restrictions on group size in childcare settings, but there will be a gradual increase in the numbers of families for whom childminders can provide childcare, moving from two to three families from 8 June.

When are weddings allowed?

Image source, Getty Images

Outdoor weddings with 10 people present are allowed from 8 June.

Previously, weddings had only been permitted for people who were terminally ill.

What about funerals?

Image source, Getty Images

While funeral services are still going ahead in Northern Ireland, government guidance limits the number of mourners to 10.

Police are investigating reports of larger numbers of mourners at funeral services, First Minister Arlene Foster said on 28 May, adding that files would be sent to the Public Prosecution Service.

But Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said policing at funerals was made difficult by a lack of specific instructions in the coronavirus regulations.

He was not sure anyone would think police taking a "hands-on" approach to enforcement at a funeral would be a good idea, he added.

The Diocese of Down and Connor has said it is resuming funeral services and requiem masses with immediate effect, limiting the numbers attending to 10 and observing social distancing.

How far can I travel to take exercise or meet friends outdoors?

There are no restrictions on travel for those who are not self-isolating.

That means in all the instances where people are permitted to leave home, there is no limit on the distance they can travel.

While most people have followed government advice to only exercise once a day, that has never been included in regional coronavirus legislation.

This is different from eased lockdown measures in the Republic of Ireland, where from Monday, the government will allow people to travel anywhere inside their own county, rather than just be limited to 20km (12m) from home.

For people living in a border area, they will also be able to travel up to 20km into another county.

When can I take part in non-contact football training?

This is covered in part two of the Pathway to Recovery.

The easing of measures on 8 June includes the reopening of outdoor sports courts.

What sports can I play?

Outdoor activities that do not involve shared contact with hard surfaces, including some water sports, are now permitted, and public sports venues and outdoors spaces can reopen.

Image source, Pacemaker

While activities such as golf, tennis and fishing are now allowed, you should contact your club or event organiser for details about restrictions.

Gyms and fitness studios have not been given a date to reopen, but they are included in step four of the Pathway to Recovery blueprint.

What about churches, cinemas and music events?

Image source, PA Media

Churches can reopen for people to pray privately, with appropriate social distancing and the cleaning of shared-contact hard surfaces.

Drive-in celebrations are also permitted.

Drive-in cinemas, music and theatrical events and theatres are allowed.

What about driving across the border?

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland share a 310-mile (500km) long border which many people cross regularly for work or leisure.

While Gardaí (Irish police) have been told they have no enforcement powers over people from Northern Ireland who breach Covid-19 regulations in the Republic of Ireland, the executive has urged people to use common sense when travelling.

In terms of travelling within the UK, one reader who lives in Londonderry and has family in England asked if that journey is possible.

UK-wide guidance, which would apply for someone travelling into England, advises only to take journeys which are necessary.

The type of trip described would also involve meeting up with a separate household - presumably indoors - which is also still not permitted.

On the issue of quarantine, there is no need to do so for someone making the journey from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and then in the opposite direction.

Can I use a holiday home or caravan?

Having initially not been mentioned in the pathway to recovery, the issue of holiday accommodation was addressed by the executive on 1 June.

Hotels, holiday parks, caravan sites and self-catering properties, guesthouses and accommodation, bed and breakfasts and hostels will now be allowed to reopen on 20 July.

However, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill later added that caravans and self-catering accommodation might open sooner, "given that they are self contained units".

If you are reading this page on the BBC News app, you will need to visit the mobile version of the BBC website to submit your question on this topic.

When do we move to step two?

Unlike the Republic of Ireland's recovery plan, Northern Ireland's approach has no defined timetable, so we cannot answer questions about specific dates - although the executive has said measures from step two of its Pathway to Recovery will be introduced from 8 June.

The Stormont executive says it will follow scientific advice on the timing of lockdown-easing steps and not all aspects of each phase will take effect at the same time.

As in other countries, the R number - the number of people an infected person is likely pass the virus on to - is an important factor here.

From 8 June, step two of Northern Ireland's plan allows:

  • Large non-food retailers to reopen, including car showrooms, electrical shops and phone shops
  • Small weddings and civil partnership ceremonies permitted outdoors, with no more than 10 people present
  • Outdoor sports facilities can reopen
  • People can leave home to attend to the needs or welfare of an animal - for example to access a range of services, including dog grooming
  • Hotels will be able to take advance bookings, for a reopening date of 20 July

When can I move house?

In England, estate agents are reopening and carrying out viewings.

But in NI, Scotland and Wales the property market effectively remains "in pause mode", according to PropertyPal's chief economist.

Image source, Getty Images

While the Pathway to Recovery does not specifically mention estate agents, they can make "tentative preparations" for a resumption of business, Jordan Buchanan told BBC News NI, saying resumption of business could be a matter of weeks or a month away.

However, Mid and East Antrim Council has already begun to allow viewings to properties that have been empty for some time, and where social distancing is adhered to.

Councils have been given some oversight powers in relation to some of the lockdown regulations.

Check with your council if they are allowing house viewings to start again.

When will schools reopen?

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Schools in the Republic of Ireland will remain closed until September at the earliest

Northern Ireland's schools have been closed since March.

Some NI pupils will return to school in late August with a phased return for the remainder, the education minister Peter Weir has said.

He said the reopening of schools would begin with limited provision for pupils preparing for exams, such as GCSEs and A-Levels, as well as students moving from primary to post-primary schools in August.

This will be followed by a phased reopening for all pupils at the beginning of September, which will involve a mix of class-based and remote learning.

For more information on what we know about schools, read more here.

Can I get a dental appointment?

The short answer is that, unless you are in serious pain, you cannot.

Dental practices have been closed to all but emergency treatment since the lockdown began.

From 8 June, they start a three-phase reopening process and urgent face-to-face appointments will be allowed.

Image source, PA Media

Most dental procedures are aerosol-generating, meaning they release airborne particles which can result in infection spreading, the Health and Social Care Board has said.

If you have a dental problem, call your dentist first.

Read our Q&A for more on what dental services are reopening from Monday.

When will car dealerships be open?

Car showrooms and larger retailers - such as shops in phone and furniture shops in retail parks - reopen from 8 June.

During lockdown, car dealerships' sales and after-sales departments have been open for sales, regular services and repairs, via online or phone bookings.

For more details, call the dealership directly or visit its website.

Image source, Getty Images

What are the rules for carrying out work in other people's homes?

The British government published guidance last month about working safely in other people's homes during the lockdown but it only applies in England.

The Stormont executive has not issued specific guidance relating to painters, decorators and carpet-fitters, for example.

There is no mention of it in the Pathway to Recovery either. However, the executive says people should be encouraged to work on a phased basis, where safety measures are in place.

As indoor visits are still advised against in Northern Ireland, it seems unlikely that companies can carry out work inside people's homes.

However, as some construction firms have begun operating again while maintaining social distancing, getting work done in your garden is likely permitted.

Why can I travel to meet friends outside but not to my holiday home?

While the executive says there are no restrictions on travel distance, this only applies to occasions when people are now permitted to leave their homes.

Going to a holiday home is not one of those occasions, the health minister has confirmed.

"People in NI should not be heading to caravan parks or holiday homes at this time," said Robin Swann. "Stick with us and the spirit of what this legislation is about."

Can I go to public parks and forests?

Yes - but make sure to use the toilet beforehand.

Facilities at the parks, such as toilets or cafes, are not yet allowed to open.

Daera-owned estates reopened last month, and car parks reopened shortly afterwards.

Image source, NAtional Trust
Image caption,
Visitors can book visits to locations like Mount Stewart

A spokesperson for the National Trust said the reopening of its car parks would be "gradual" and "local judgement" would be used to avoid creating hotspots.

It urged the public to check its website before visiting its facilities.

Some National Trust parks and gardens reopened from 3 June, but require advance booking from visitors.

Could the restrictions be tightened again?

Yes. People's behaviour over the next few weeks will determine whether lockdown-easing steps continue, are halted or are reversed - depending on how the R value is affected.

If the R value continues to drop, Northern Ireland will carry on through the steps of the Pathway to Recovery.

But if that number starts to creep up again, the executive has said it will re-introduce restrictions.